Publication details [#4124]

Dirven, René. 1990. Metaphorical divergences in the evolution of Dutch and Afrikaans. Modern Chinese 5 : 9–34. 26 pp.


This paper offers an analysis of a limited corpus of 80 phrasal metaphors of the type 'worstel oor die politick' (lit. 'wrestle about politics', i.e. "think and debate about polities". For this purpose, a distinction is made between three components of metaphor, namely the image, the vehicle (= the actual wording), and the tenor or meaning. Each of the three components can undergo expansion or reduction so that we may face a very complex set of historical changes in either of the two languages. Since Dutch only has the expression 'worstelen met problemen' (wrestle with problems), the two expressions have the same underlying image, but a different vehicle, and, as a result, a slightly different tenor. This Afrikaans expression thus is an instance of vehicle expansion and also of tenor expansion. But in 'geil plantegroei' "exuberant, fertile plant growth" Afrikaans has preserved the 17th century meaning of Dutch 'geil', so that this is an instance of tenor reduction in Dutch. The corpus analysis confirms the hypothesis that differences between the common stocks of metaphors in Afrikaans and Dutch are due to the fact that the Afrikaans expressions have preserved more of the older characteristics and potential of earlier Dutch than modern Dutch has. This means that the process of reduction, i.e. narrowing, has been far stronger in Dutch than in Afrikaans. This, in its turn, suggests that the ancestor language tends to develop in the direction of an ever greater specification (or narrowing) of its stock of expressions, whereas the daughter language tends to be more conservative in this respect and stick to the wider use of linguistic expressions prevailing in the former stages of a common ancestor language. But, as the vehicle expansion in 'worstel oor' shows, the daughter language also develops a dynamics of its own, viz. it tends to use a great deal of expressions in a much wider sense than the ancestor lexicon allowed. This double pattern of evolution leads to the following conclusion: Afrikaans is characterized, in very general terms, by two opposite tendencies: (a) a greater preservation of the former Dutch nature of the lexicon, and (b) a loosening of a number of co-occurrence restrictions. (René Dirven)